Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos Interactive/Square Enix
Genre: Action Puzzle Platform
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PC (via Steam)

Though not technically part of the Tomb Raider series, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a great example of what can happen when fresh ideas come to a seemingly dead franchise. Available only through download, Guardian of Light takes a detour from the normal experience of Tomb Raider, setting the player in an isometric perspective. High replay value combined with local or online co-operative play makes Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light one of the best Tomb Raider games in recent years.

“Stand back. This is no job for a woman.”

The story in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is just enough to drive the action. Deep in the heart of the Yucatan, Lara is in search of an artifact known as the Mirror of Smoke. When she finds the artifact, she is ambushed by the local warlord, Vasco, and his band of mercenaries. Vasco takes the Mirror of Smoke for himself, unleashing Xolotl, the Keeper of Darkness. Two thousand years ago, Xolotl was defeated in battle by the followers of Totec, the Guardian of Light. Totec imprisoned Xolotl in the Mirror of Smoke and has kept watch should he ever be released. Now with Xolotl free, Lara must team up with Totec to banish Xolotl to the Mirror of Smoke before dawn, or he will bring about the end of the world.

“This is my kind of magic.”
Even without the Tomb Raider title, Guardian of Light still offers an array of puzzles to solve and enemies to fight. Combat is a mix of Diablo and the recently released Alien Swarm from Valve. Enemies will pour into rooms, ranging from straight-forward mechanics to others that can only be killed with certain weapons. Puzzles strike an excellent balance between difficulty and frustration, with most able to be solved with one to two tries, and the use of co-op mixes up the variety. For example, Totec can raise his shield above his head as a way for Lara to reach a high ledge. In singleplayer, puzzles are rearranged to be solvable with only one player. Lara is also given Totec’s spear in singleplayer which she can throw into a wall to reach a ledge, replacing the need for a second player in the previous example.

“I think its time we upgraded your equipment.”
Guardian of Light plays most like an arcade game. You can earn points for killing enemies, collecting gems, and other reward challenges that the game offers. You can then compare your score worldwide on leaderboards. New weapons are unlockable via high scores as well as optional challenge tombs. Solving the puzzle within these tombs will reward artifacts and relics that can enhance various weapons and skills. Reward challenges can offer weapon, ammo, or health upgrades for completing various challenges in a certain amount of time or in a particular manner. Some of the reward challenges in the first level are a great gauge to see what kind of things you can expect; jumping between pots without touching the ground, or completing a puzzle in under a minute. Lara also has many more weapons to her arsenal this time. She starts with her normal dual pistols but can upgrade to assault rifles, shotguns, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, and rocket launchers. Weapons are sometimes integral for solving puzzles, so it’s best to choose the right weapon for the right situation.

“A bit old fashioned, but I’m sure I can find some use for it.”
For a downloadable game, Guardian of Light looks stunning. The game utilizes the same engine that was found in Tomb Raider: Underworld, but the isometric perspective gives it a new look. Environments are detailed beautifully and destructible objects look great as they break or explode, though the debris disappears afterward. The new camera angle also gives a feeling of verticality that hasn’t been so prevalent in any other Tomb Raider game.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a fresh take on the Tomb Raider franchise, and one I hope Crystal Dynamics continues to explore. Five downloadable content packs are already planned to be release, three of which will contain new maps and puzzles, while the other two will feature alternate playable characters. These content packs along with the ability to replay any level once you complete the game will only entice players to play through areas again to score the high points and complete various challenges that will unlock newer and more powerful weapons, artifacts, and relics. Rumors of the next Tomb Raider title (with possible multiplayer) returning for 2011 holiday season are already circling, but Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light should have more than enough to satisfy players for months to come.

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